Training For Holiness
Holiness, Discipline, Sacrifice, Obedience, Godly Living
When most people learn how to drive, there is great eagerness but little skill. Most young drivers behind the wheel are somewhat overwhelmed by the number of things they have to keep track of in order to drive safely. I remember when I was learning to drive that when I took my eyes off of the road to check my mirrors or to look at the speedometer I worried I was going to drift into the other lane, because I had a tendency to steer wherever I was looking. You may have had a similar experience when you were learning to drive. After driving day in and day out for a number of years, you find that many of the things that once required great concentration are now second-nature to you. You have a feel for how much to turn the wheel, for when to brake, how hard to brake, and what things to be looking for. If you’ve driven a car for a while, you can even tell when something is wrong with the car because it sounds or feels different.
Good drivers don’t become good drivers overnight. They don’t become good drivers just from sitting in a classroom and learning about driving. Driver’s Ed instructors can attest that the students who become good drivers are the ones who spend the most time behind the wheel practicing good habits. Good drivers are the ones who have trained themselves so that those good habits are now second-nature.
This morning, we are going to look at a different type of training, but one that shares many of the same characteristics with training to be a good driver. We are going to learn how to live a life that reflects the hope that we have in Christ. Peter is going to tell us how to start living in a way that is different than the world around us and brings a smile to the face of God. Just like you don’t become a good driver by sitting in a classroom or even watching other good drivers, so learning to live a holy life comes only by making a consistent, concerted effort to put into practice the commands that Peter gives.
We are just starting our study of the letter of 1 Peter, but we have already seen that believers have great reason for hope. Last week we saw Peter emphasize that believers have an inheritance that is waiting for us in heaven, being guarded until we arrive. He said that because of this, Christians should be people who live with a hope that cannot be shaken by the things of this world—that no matter what happens, Christians can have the assurance that what awaits them is far better than anything this world can offer.
Now, Peter applies these truths—He shows us how to live in a way that embraces this hope.
13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. 14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:13-16)
This section begins with the word therefore, which means Peter is giving us a conclusion based on what he has just said. Basically, Peter is saying that since we are chosen by God and since we have a guaranteed inheritance waiting for us in heaven, we should live our lives in a way that brings honor to God.
The overarching command that Peter gives us is to be holy. He says we should be holy just as our heavenly Father is holy. But what does the word “holy” mean?
To be holy literally means to be separate. When we say that God is holy, it means that he is completely separated from sin and evil. There is nothing in God’s character that is even remotely related to sin. God’s holiness means that everything about Him is the polar opposite of sin and evil.
Peter quotes from the Old Testament book of Leviticus when he says that God commanded us to, “Be holy because I am holy.” There are several places in Leviticus that Peter could have been referring to, because the theme of holiness is woven throughout the entire book. Leviticus is a book that gave the Israelites instructions on how to live in a way that would set them apart from the rest of the world.
The people of Israel had been slaves in Egypt and God led them out of slavery and into the Promised Land. When they got there they discovered that it was already inhabited by people. God commanded them to get rid of the people inhabiting that land because they were evil. Was God being arbitrary and unfairh? No. He commanded them to get rid of everyone because He knew that they did not get rid of everyone they would be pulled to the pagan customs of those people. The Israelites did not do what God said and they began to compromise their faith and their lives. Soon, they were following many of the pagan rituals of the people that surrounded them. They didn’t separate themselves from the world around them, and it caused them to be separated from God.
We also are surrounded by a culture that seeks to pull us away from God. Our culture seems to say that God’s way of doing things is foolish and we have progressed beyond that. Our society pushes us to blend in with the crowd, to go with the flow, to not rock the boat. God calls us to live differently, to be weird, to live according to His commands even though our society says it’s foolish. He calls us to follow Him rather than the trends of contemporary society. Trends change, confuse and disappoint. Trends are based on the whims of people. God calls us to pursue what is true and unchanging. He calls us to pursue Him..
Holiness isn’t about following a bunch of rules that will enable us to get into Heaven. We could never do enough to earn Heaven. The command to be holy challenges us to live in a way that honors the One who has saved us by His mercy and grace. The desire to live a holy life is a response to God’s love, not an attempt to earn it.
Imagine a husband and wife who are separated because the husband has been deployed overseas in the military. They love each other deeply, but don’t get the chance to see each other for over a year. During that time, they each have the opportunity to start relationships with other people. Each of them could decide to live only for the moment instead of looking at the big picture. They could trade in their years of marriage together for a few moments of temporary pleasure with someone else.
This husband and wife, however, don’t act that way. Though they each have many opportunities to take up with someone else, they know that doing so would damage their relationship with each other. So they choose to remain separate from relationships with anyone else so they can be with each other. Their relationship is far more important than the temporary thrill they would get from being with others. This is a picture of holiness. The husband and wife choose to remain separate, because it honors the one they love. We have a relationship with a holy God, and when we put Him above everything else in the world, that relationship deepens and we grow even closer to Him. It pleases Him when we put Him first.
Living Holy Lives
So we understand that we should be holy as a response to the holy God who loves us. It is one thing to say that we should be holy, but we also have to ask how to do it. Fortunately, Peter gives us three commands about how to move toward living holy lives.
The first command he gives us is to prepare our minds for action. The original language here actually says “gird up the loins of your mind.” In the first century, men wore long robes that reached down to their feet. If you have ever tried to run in something like that, you found that all that fabric gets in the way, and you start stepping on it, and it slows you down. So men in those days would “gird up their loins”, which meant that they would tuck the bottom of their garments into their belts so that they were now wearing something akin to shorts. They were ready for action. Today, we might say something like, “roll up the sleeves of your mind.” In other words, get your mind ready to do the work that is necessary.
If we want to live differently from the world, the battle starts with our mind. I think there are a number of ways we can prepare our minds for action, to prepare ourselves to stand firm in a world that is trying to lead us astray.
- Read the Bible and other good Christian books that will challenge you in your faith and will equip you with the knowledge and wisdom you need to face the world. Think about whatever your biggest struggle is right now and find a Christian book that deals with that issue.
- Begin committing Scripture to memory. When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, he continually quoted scripture back to Satan as a way of reminding himself (and Satan) of what God had promised and what God had told Him to do. We can employ the same principle. Some of you don’t find memorization easy—but it isn’t impossible. After all, we memorize all sorts of things in our lives. The key is to constantly keep those things in front of us. Here’s a suggestion. As you read your Bible and find a verse that is especially important to you, write it on a note card and carry your stack of cards with you. When you have a free moment, spend some time reading and trying to remember those verses. The more you see them, the more easily you will remember them.
- Spend some time in silence. Turn off the TV, the radio, and even your cell phone. We are so busy doing so many things at once that we often fail to think deeply about anything. Take some time to think about who God is, to think about a struggle you’re currently facing, or to think about why silence is so difficult for you! In this time of silence you can be fully present with God instead of allowing everything else to distract you from your faith.
- Limit what enters your mind. Practice turning off the TV (even if it’s in the middle of a show) when inappropriate content comes on. Learn to look away from members of the opposite sex when you feel your eyes wandering. Refuse to listen to music that communicates messages that are contrary to God’s law. Walk away from conversations that cause sinful desires (like greed, gossip, anger, or envy) to rise within you.
- Stop blaming others for your anger. Instead of complaining that some people in your life “make you mad,” recognize the truth that others don’t make us do anything, but we have a choice of how to respond.
- Change the way you think about your job or school. Learn to view it as a mission field God has given you rather than something you must endure.
We need to start training our minds, because if we want to live holy lives that are different from the rest of the world, then our minds must be up to the task. Like the Driver’s Ed student, you can’t expect your mind to be up to the task if you don’t train it.
The second command Peter gives us is to be self-controlled. In the original language Peter actually says to be sober. While it’s true that we should not get drunk, that really isn’t what he is driving at here. Peter is saying that just like we should not allow ourselves to be controlled by alcohol, we should not allow anything external to have control over us. We allow all sorts of desires to control us—desires for money, approval, success, activities, relationships, etc. We must train ourselves to enjoy those things without allowing them to control us. We do this by setting limits on our desires and sticking to them.
Again, I’ve tried to come up with some ideas of how we can do this.
- If you struggle with money, start to live by a budget. At the beginning of the month, plan out where every dollar is going to be spent, leaving yourself a limited amount of money to spend on whatever you want. Plan at the beginning of the month to save what you need to save and give what you need to give rather than trying to do those things with whatever’s left at the end of the month. Plan how you’ll spend your money and then don’t buy things that aren’t in your budget.
- If you find that you’re too busy, choose to limit yourself (and your kids) to a certain number of activities and choose the ones that are most important to you. Learn to say no to some things, not because they are bad, but because you need to control your schedule rather than letting your schedule control you. Make time to do what is most important to you and teach your kids to do the same.
- Set a schedule for Bible reading and prayer and stick to it. Schedule those times into your daily calendar and choose to make them more important than the other appointments in your day. Start by blocking off just 15 minutes every day. It will help you to keep your priorities straight and to remain close to God.
- Work at controlling your tongue. James says that a man who controls his tongue is able to control everything else. Think before you speak—ask yourself if what you are about to say is honoring to God. And if it isn’t, don’t say it—no matter how strong the desire is.
- Make your most nagging sinful desires a matter of concerted prayer. Ask God to help you. When you feel tempted, immediately ask for God’s help—He doesn’t tell us to resist sin in our own strength.
There are a number of other ways to develop self-control, but the key is to intentionally set limits on your desires, and then to stick to them. At times, it will be unpleasant, and the desire to push past those limits will be overwhelming, because those desires have controlled us for so long. If we want to be holy, we have to stand up to our desires (in the Lord’s strength) and exercise control over them, rather than allowing them to control us.
The third thing Peter tells us to do is to break free from the evil desires of the world. We live in a world that tells us that the kind of life we have been describing is foolish. Our society says that we should do what we want when we want it. Our society tells us to give in to our desires because it will make us happy. This is at the heart of nearly all advertising—telling us that we deserve better.
The world tells us that what we want is the most important thing there is. The world says “I am king.” That seems appealing, but it isn’t true. Peter tells us that since we know the truth, we should be obedient, and refuse to be conformed to the pattern of the world.
Maybe it means that we:
Refuse to take part in the gossip that happens at the “water cooler” whether that happens to be the lunch table, our dinner table at home, or the place where we hang out with our friends. Instead, we will recognize that the way we talk about others can have a profound impact on their lives.
Choose to be content with what we have instead of buying into the worldly refrain that we deserve better (or need more). It may mean that we shouldn’t get a new car when the old one works, buy the latest gadget when what we have meets our needs, or buy new clothes when the old ones still fit.
Choose to be quiet and listen to others when we are in a group instead of trying to show everyone else how important or smart or successful we are.
Seek to get to know people instead of judging them based on our first impression. We can see people for who they are—God’s beloved creations—instead of annoyances to be endured or obstacles to be overcome.
These kinds of things are the pattern of the world. Deep down, we know these things are wrong, but we justify our actions because, “Everybody does it.” It’s time for us to stop making excuses and to stop simply going along with the pattern of the world because it’s easier. We need to break free from the pattern of the world and live as children who are obedient to our heavenly Father.
Peter gives us great instruction on how we are to live. He doesn’t just tell us to be holy; he tells us how we can train ourselves for holy living.
You may be thinking, Why bother? Training for holiness involves sacrifice and discomfort. It would be easier for us to just go along with the world and allow our desires to continue to control us. Remember who Peter is talking to. He isn’t talking to the world at large. He is talking to Christians. This isn’t some sort of self-help pep talk. Peter tells Christians to remember who it is they serve, to remember the grace that God has given to us. He reminds us that God has chosen to love us and prepare a place for us in Heaven, and not only that, He has provided a way for us to be forgiven, no matter what lies in our past. Peter tells us that Christians should strive to live holy lives because we have been loved by a holy God and we want to show love and honor to Him.
Remember the Driver’s Ed student. They are willing to spend hours making mundane trips driving on the backcountry roads and going everywhere with their parents or their Driver’s Ed instructor sitting next to them giving instructions. It’s a stressful time and it isn’t always easy, but they stick with it because they know what they’re moving towards. They know that one day they will get their driver’s license and will have a freedom they hadn’t known before.
It’s the same with the pursuit of holiness. It’s hard, it demands concerted effort, and isn’t going to be popular. But we must keep our eyes on the pay-off. We know what we are moving towards. We know that as we become more holy we draw closer to the holy God who loves us. We know that as we break free from the grip of the world, we experience a freedom that eludes others. We know that living God’s way carries with it tremendous benefits. And we know that even though training for holiness is hard work, it is absolutely worth it in the end.